FAST Blast: March Madness redux (and more)

While I launched this blog in August, I considered starting it last year about this time. I wrote the original version of this post a year ago, with an imminent launch in mind. What follows is a revised version — a sort of refresher on the near-anniversary of some singular sporting wonders.

BEWARE THE IDES of March Madness — especially when a damaged Man(ning) is on the loose.

Befuddled? Join the club. The above lead describes a trio of unprecedented events in three sports that took place (mostly) in March 2012. Actually, you could say two sports were involved, depending on your definition. Befuddled, indeed.

Let’s decode the conundrum…

1. Peyton’s New Place
QB Peyton Manning, Super Bowl winner and four-time MVP, was released by the Indianapolis Colts on March 7 and became arguably the most seismic free agent in NFL history.

The Colts decided to cut Manning, who missed the 2011 season after multiple neck surgeries, and thus avoided paying him a $28 million bonus. We can surmise that the uncertainty surrounding his recovery contributed to the Colts’ decision, but the Denver Broncos banked on a healthy Manning in 2012 — they signed the NFL’s biggest free-agent prize. And Manning rewarded their faith, leading Denver to the NFL’s best record.

In related news: Having signed Manning, the Broncos jettisoned Tebow-mania last year — trading QB Tim Tebow to the New York Jets. This month, the Jets released Tebow.

2. Roman Emperor on Trading Block? Are You Lin-sane?
Beware the NBA ides of March! The league’s trade deadline last year fell on March 15 — the latest it has ever occurred. You may wonder: Why so tardy? Why was the deadline delayed until the anniversary of that fateful day when Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.?

OK, I’ll spare you the Google search: Last year’s NBA trade deadline came historically late due to the NBA lockout, which postponed the start of last season from Nov. 1 until Christmas Day.

Another league first: The NBA boasted its own version of March Madness last season, featuring yet another unprecedented phenomenon. Since this madness arrived a month earlier, we could call it February Frenzy, but the pop-media description was simply: Lin-sanity.

In early February 2012, Jeremy Lin became the first Asian-American to start an NBA game (and the league’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent).

He led the New York Knicks, who appeared headed to black-hole oblivion, to seven straight wins. In the first of those wins, Lin set an NBA scoring record for a Harvard player with a 25-point outburst — and he obliterated his own mark three games later, recording 38 points in a shocking conquest of superstar Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lin’s rise from Ivy League obscurity to worldwide acclaim was more than meteoric — it was unknown nova-like. Sure, Lin starred at Harvard, but he received no Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school despite being the Northern California Division II Player of the Year. (Harvard and all the other Ivy schools are D-I, but they don’t offer athletic scholarships.)

After a stellar college career — which included a dazzling 30-point performance his senior year in a loss to Big East powerhouse Connecticut — Lin went (you guessed it) undrafted. That’s right, 30 NBA franchises joined the We Missed Lin club that had been founded by 300-plus colleges and universities.

After last season, Lin signed as a free agent with the Houston Rockets. For Knicks fans, this season has been a maddening return to a state of sans-Lin sanity, though the Knicks’ successful campaign has eased the loss. As for mental health professionals in southeast Texas, they’ve had a full season to diagnose and study Lin-sanity. Lin remains legit, so there’s still no cure in sight.

3. Eyes on the Ides in NCAA Tourney
When do you suppose the Kentucky Wildcats began their quest for a national championship in last year’s NCAA tournament? Yes, their first tourney game was on March 15, aka the ides of March.

As fate would have it, the Kentucky men marched through the tournament and won the national title in early April, posting a 38-win season — the most victories ever for a Division I men’s basketball team.

On the women’s side, Baylor won the title and recorded the first 40-win season in college hoops history (40-0). The Connecticut and Tennessee women had previously posted unblemished 39-0 seasons; Tennessee did so in 1997-98, and UConn has achieved that record an unparalleled three times (2001-02, ’08-09 and ’09-10).

A further NCAA distinction: The 2012 NCAA men’s tourney was the first to witness two upsets of a No. 15 seed over a No. 2. For Duke and Missouri, heartbreak attended their Big Dance early, while Lehigh and Norfolk State donned glass slippers and boogied at the ball.

+++

Somehow, for reasons not entirely clear to the left side of my brain, the convergence of these three unique events has me reflecting on exceptional historical happenings outside the realm of 21st-century sports … three happenings, to be exact. Hint: Two are typically commemorated in April, described as the cruelest month by poet T.S. Eliot — though any coach of a No. 2 seed that crashes and burns in March might question which month is crueler. The other is celebrated on the day the NBA began its recent lockout-shortened season.

To be continued…

Information from various media outlets was used in this article.

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